'The Trial of the Chicago 7' on Netflix: Did FBI plot Fred Hampton killing? Edgar Hoover saw him as 'Black Messiah'
Hampton was viewed as the next great Black leader in the aftermath of the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X and it was for this reason that he was feared by the FBI
One of the most shocking moments of Aaron Sorkin's latest political drama, 'The Trial of the Chicago 7' -- out now on Netflix -- is when Black Panther Party co-founder, Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul Mateen II) was bound and gagged on the orders of Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella), all for reiterating his right to legal representation during the trial. Earlier in the movie, we saw that Judge Hoffman had denied Seale's request to delay the trial because his lawyer was recovering from gall bladder surgery and refused to let Seale represent himself.
Even so, Seale continued to assert his right to represent himself, often getting the advice of fellow Black Panther Party member, Fred Hampton (Kelvin Harrison Jr). Midway through Seale's trial, he is given the news that Hampton was killed by the Chicago Police Department in a gunfire exchange during a police raid. However, Seale instead insists that Hampton was, in fact, assassinated.
Hampton was only 21 years old at the time of his death. His partner, Deborah Jones, who was lying next to him in bed the morning of his assassination, was eight months pregnant. Her account of what happened that fateful December morning made one thing clearer -- Seale was right.
There were probably a few reasons as to why Seale suspected that Hampton was assassinated. Even at just 21 years old, Hampton was already the chairman of the Illinois Black Panthers and deputy chairman of the national party. He was an extraordinary orator and leader, having founded a youth chapter of the NAACP and even orchestrated a non-aggression pact among Chicago's most powerful street gangs. Emphasizing that racial and ethnic conflict among gangs would only keep its members entrenched in poverty, Hampton strove to forge a class-conscious, multiracial alliance among the BPP, the neo-confederate Young Patriots Organization, and the Young Lords under the leadership of Jose Cha-Cha Jimenez, leading to the Rainbow Coalition.
For this reason, Hampton was viewed as the next great Black leader in the aftermath of the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X -- if he already wasn't one -- and it was for this reason that he was feared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) chief, J Edgar Hoover. He was concerned, as he wrote in one directive, about “the rise of a new Black Messiah.” In 1967, when Hampton was just 19 years old, the FBI opened a file on him and by May 1968, he was placed on the Bureau's “Agitator Index” as a “key militant leader.” When Hoover was informed of the Black Panthers' Free Breakfast Program -- spearheaded by Hampton --, he responded with a memo implying that the agent's career prospects depended on his supplying evidence to support Hoover's view that the BPP was “a violence-prone organization seeking to overthrow the Government by revolutionary means.”
Later that year, the Racial Matters squad of the FBI's Chicago field office recruited William O'Neal to work as an informant for them within the Black Panther Party in exchange for having his felony charges dropped. O'Neal joined the Party and quickly rose in the organization, becoming Director of Chapter security and Hampton's bodyguard. O'Neal would go on to provide the layout of the apartment Hampton and a few other Panthers stayed at to the police on the FBI's request, in addition to details about where Hampton slept in the apartment. It was this layout that was used by the police to plan their raid.
During the raid, the police fired their guns around 90 to 99 times. In response, there was only one shot fired from the Panthers. It was believed that this shot from another Panther who was killed, Mark Clark, came as a reflexive death-convulsion after being shot in the heart.
Deborah Johnson would later tell National Lawyers Guild attorney Jeffrey Haas about how the police pulled her from the room as Hampton lay unconscious on their bed. She heard one of the officers say, “He’s still alive.” Next, two gunshots. A second officer said, “He’s good and dead now.” Although the FBI was not responsible for leading this particular raid, a federal grand jury noted that the bureau played a significant role in the events leading up to the raid.
'The Trial of the Chicago 7' is now streaming on Netflix.